Essay: How do contemporary visual artists present the remediated individual through online media?

by Beauchamp Art

Benjamin Samuel Beauchamp.

BA6: Contexts: Collaboration, Audience and Employability. 15.5.2014

 

How do contemporary visual artists present the remediated individual through online media?

 

The remediated individual concerns contemporary artists whom question the intention of media, and verisimilitude in a fragmented, unstable visual environment, where individuals can instinctively “absorb information from the flickering […] screen, [and emerging] omnipresent personal computers.” [Paglia, 2004: 2, 4] This affects all individuals communicating through mediums, and is reflected in visual art.

Mass mediation’s proliferation signifies its absence as more remarkable than its presence. “In an era of 50in wall-mounted flatscreens dominating the living room like an animated canvas,” [Brooker, 2014] the screen’s extension of reality may be seen as transparent as traditional perspectives paintings were historically. The everyday-framed window may nullify mediation if acclimatisation to the medium makes the reprocessed representation seem equally authentic as direct observation; “production of illusionistic representations has become the domain of mass culture and […] delegated to optical and electronic machines.” [Manovich, 2001: 177]. Media’s interrelationships are as significant as the representation if “all media work by ‘remediating’: […] translating, refashioning, and reforming other media, both on the level of content and form.” [Bolter, 1999: 19]

Exponentially augmenting reality creates an environment flooded with the interactive multiplicity of distributable imagery, comparatively as revolutionary as the development of perspective representation. For even cultures unfamiliar with this mode of representation may decipher it after limited contact, as perspective employs conventions that imitate reality [Hagen, 1980]. They appropriate the conviction [Bolter, 2000: 9] of the aesthetic flattening of the photographic landscape. [Hays, 2014] If such perspective falls outside the “zone of proximal development” [Vygotsky, 1978: 86], it must be contextualised by repeated exposure; because the representation can never be transparent the photograph relies on a superficial reading to induce an imitation. Closely examining the screen reveals the “flat two-dimensional mosaic.” [McLuhan, 1975: 273] The semantics of one representation informs the understanding of subsequent media that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity. [Wood, 1976: 90] Much as behaviour has to be reinterpreted with an expanding infrastructure, from the individual, to city, to the Internet.

Contemporary multi-faceted representations are enabled through accessing infinitely replicable images, delocalising objects, as “specialist technologies detribalise” [McLuhan, 1964: 24]. The projected ego reflects in countless warped mirrors, shifting into unfamiliar forms. The simulacrum may triumph as the representation is validated by its connectivity rather then its observed authenticity. If photography’s reflection initiated the age of self-critical attitudes, [McLuhan, 1964: 197], then the network age may become critical of interrelationships, and the unavoidable
distortion of the reflection alters as every hand marks the mirror it passes.


[Fig. 1] Dan Hays, (2005) Dan Hays

 

The Dan Hays portrait [Fig. 1] depicts the artist’s remediated homonymous doppelgänger, acknowledging “the reality of the act of mediation,” [Bolter, 2000: 59], expanding observations self-criticality, reflecting his uncanny false double. [Hays, 2014]Here, the spectacled figure photographs himself alongside his camera in a mirror. The low-resolution picture has then been uploaded to the Internet, the downloaded, horizontally flipped and painted by Hays. This has then been re-photographed and uploaded onto his website: encapsulating within one image mediation sevenfold; each return to the media confronting the user with the simultaneously automatic and interactive window. [Bolter, 2000: 33] This could be seen as a continued question of the unreliability of human perception in René Magritte’s (1933) The Human Condition; evidencing artists’ sustain interest with the function and transparency of the media.

Hays replicates not reality itself, but the aesthetic of “photographic reality, […] as seen by the [digital] camera lens.” [Manovich, 2001: 202] imitating the picture exactly down to the fragmented structure of the image, assuming a linear faux-pointillist painting style, abstracting it by painting isolated pixels, photorealistically replicating the digital camera artefacts: [Manovich, 2001: 193] the grain, pixellation and unreal colour scheme, thereby drawing attention to the mediation. The immediate “sense of depth is lost” [Hays, 2014] by aesthetically compression of the image. The figure is not merely depicted; rather it reflects each window the subject has been refracted through, hyperbolising mass remediation in “an era of screen based image overabundance and ephemerality” [Ritchin, 2013: 49] in which everything “is made visible to use through windows.” [Bolter, 2000: 180] Rather than bypassing the transparent media, Hays taps on Alberti’s window, acknowledging its material presence and effects of an increased “contact with mediated representations of complex physical and social world,” [Defleur, 1989: 258] responding critically.

In [Fig. 1], each remediated viewing subjects the audience to an affected perception; the “vulnerability to imagery” [Howe, 2008: 9-10] impacts the viewer’s unique outlook, inheriting the influence of external perceptions. The original photo elicits a different response to the uploaded, painted image becausesubsequent interactions with related media are retrospectively informed. The over-saturation of human representations may become indistinguishable, as “three out of four people [are] desensitized to images showing hunger, drought, and disease,” [Richtin, 2013: 108] the abstracted individual may become dehumanised by remediation, when information is lost at every stage of the reductive mediation process.

Technological limitations mean selective sections of online resources may be presented uncompressed; hence “lossy compression is the very foundation of computer culture, at least for now,” [Manovich, 2001: 55]. Data is filtered for functionality, as sensory information is limited preventing a mental overload of the “incomprehensible deluge of information created through computers.” [Hays, 2014] New media can thus complicate human perception and cognition, whilst simultaneously facilitating simplification. [Dijk, 1991: 196]

 

Online images are ambiguously valued. [Fig. 1] and [Fig. 2] demonstrates remediation without reprisal. Unstable representational legitimacy caused by manipulated images may lessen through the popularisation of editing software and unavoidable digital distortion, since “postproduction transformation of the image is considerably stronger in the digital realm, where retouching and compositing are so easily accomplished” [Richtin, 2013: 49] The secure authenticity of the photograph has been undermined, for historically “photographic evidence seemed unassailably probative. […] An interlude of false innocence has passed.” [Mitchell, 1994: 225] All culture can be filtered through the human-computer interface [Manovich, 2001: 64] it seems necessary to examine the abstract presence of the opaque media aspiring for transparency, imparting immediacy to the screen.

Pre-programmed photo-filters abstract photographs into hypermedia, distorting the verisimilitude of the image, appropriating the aesthetic of existing remediations, as Instagram imitates Kodak Instamatic’s stylistic features and Photoshop’s effects. Everyday encounters with opaque mediation may be treated as transparent if the mediator’s bias is nominal. An artwork’s representation can massively effect its interpretation, so its mediation may be as important as the work itself.

Ironically, whereas each successive copy of an analog media loses quality, “digitally encoded media can be copied endlessly without degradation,” [Manovich, 2001: 49] but are still exposed to modification through continual recontextualisation. Mnemonic new media objects are subjected to human and technological influences of continuous mutation and blending through transmission; self-propagating in the meme pool, leaping from system to system as a form of perpetually altered imitation. [Dawkings, 1976] Change becomes inevitable when entering a collective conscience; [Nachtwey, 2012: 74] interconnected remediations transform content to sustain substance within a network. Everything becomes (uniquely) paraphrased. “New media objects are rarely created completely from scratch” they following factory logic, assembling from ready-made parts. [Manovich, 2001: 124] Digital representations could be seen to draw more explicitly from multiple pre-existing sources than “text [as] a tissue of quotations.” [Barthes, 1967: 142]. [Fig. 1], [Fig. 2] acknowledge multiplicity rather than subverting remediation. Revealing interconnected, hyperlinked sources: disturbing the semiotics of the source images, and the remediated presentation of the individual and the mounting collective information exchange.


[Fig. 2] Evan Roth, (2013) Internet Cache Self Portrait

 

Internet Cache Self Portrait [Fig. 2] responds to the exponential archive of automatically gathered meta-data; amassing temporary files from the artist’s browser cache, remediating himself in multi-phased reflections, creating a portrait by proxy, similarly to [Fig. 1]. This continuous piece reflects the perpetual growth of the digital archive through expanding, sculptural collage; like wallpaper unravelling into carpet, physically incarnating the “gigantic library” [Manovich, 2001: 130] of the banal Web from which to pull innumerable images.

[Fig. 2] could serve as a cross-section of anthropological trends, visualising the enormity of accessible information, as online image databases function as a sociological archive, indicating past trajectory, and the “extension of man” that “affects the whole psychic and social complex.” [Mcluhan, 1964: 221, 4] Although “photomontage can be interpreted as a deviation from the essentially transparent nature of unified nature of photography,” it paradoxically adheres to photographic immediacy, “exemplifying its irreducible hypermediacy.” [Bolter, 2000: 39] [Fig. 2] portrays a fragmented window through which the subverted individual reveals the media.

Returning the reconstructed representation to online display further remediates it, offsetting the physical gallery object with the immaterial Internet image; a self-reflective portrait of the artist and representation. [Fig. 2]’s collage typifies how the web environment encourages creating new media objects consisting entirely of references, where the creative energy of the artist “goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than into original design,” [Manovich, 2001: 127, 130] representing the mass consumption of multifaceted, autobiographical media, generated by permanently connected communication technologies.A fluctuating subject requires an equally unfixed response to emphasize the process “rather than the finished art object.” [Mitchell, 1994: 8] The language of technology is internalised through remediating networked attention, assimilating digital media into everyday interactions, cybernetically paralleling Moore’s Law [Chacos, 2013].


[Fig. 3] Rollin Leonard, (2013) 360°/18 Lilia

 

Like the photomontage [Fig. 2] and the fragmented portrait [Fig. 3] the multifaceted individual exists as references to numerous external perceptions, “no one has only one identity […] everyone must, […] identify with more than one group, one identity. [Lawler, 2008: 3] The individual’s representational discourse is influenced by mediation and re-contextualisation, becoming incomprehensible when alienated. [Fig. 2]’s isolated images are a transplanted product of their environment. The massive image collection acts as a single body of meta-data, portraying the artist through their online interactions in excessive detail, much as [Fig. 1]’s attentive examination of image structure supersedes realism, as digital images contain more information than is ever necessary [Manovich, 2000: 53].

 

360°/18 Lilia[Fig. 3] addresses remediation through the exploration of photographic reprocessing, responding to the digital remediation of bodily representations, producing a “digital uncanny” [Hunt, 2011] of identifiably human manipulations; animating static photographs, forming a digitally puppeteered; fragmented film, disrupting the media’s transparent verisimilitude. [Fig. 3] exploits the principal of “highly composite numbers” to divide up the image, rotating at nine different rates, resetting to a complete body every 360 frames [Leonard, 2013] imitating the technical failure of a rolling shutter effect, creating an unfixed, glitch-like, neo-cubist portrait, resisting the obscurity of the mediation, producing a disjointed, pareidolic continuum. The hypermediacy of the dynamic perspective hinders realism, undermining the immediacy of the media, disrupting “the data behind a digital representation” [Manon, 2011], furthered by the inauthentic monotone palette.

The film’s 36-second loop may be played as a video within the gallery space, however the GIF version may be embedded within a website, responding to the mass distribution of the network society and commenting on its media by embracing its transmutability. Rather than “lacking a medium” by “[encompassing] simulations of all reproducible media,” [Stallabrass, 2011: 165] the online remediation reinforces “the medium [as] the message” [McLuhan, 1964: 129] not limited to isolated outcomes or locations, the circulation of the image file becomes a means of display. [Cairns, 2013, 131] The looping film may typify the experiences of new mediums, as there is no narrative arc to the “absolute” [Zuboff, 2014] Google, no measurable breadth for Facebook, or climactic resolution for Twitter or Vine, “these experiences exist as a continuum.” [Vinh, 2001: 130] The video is cyclically remediated by repetitive viewing, so the loop may be a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age. [Manovich, 2001: 317]

Isolated objects may be overlooked in the “sea of information” [Oshii, 1995]; lost in the gluttonous “data smog” [Schenk, 1997] when “the tools of distribution are ubiquitous,” [Uglow, 2014] and completely domesticated [Silverston, 1996: 46] artists may use multiplicity to overcome banality in existing communication hierarchies. Nullifying the object/subjective representation distinction, mediums may ascertain omnipresence, hypermediating though augmented reality, with only remediated facsimiles; echoes of shadows. Artists, Leonard and Roth may choose to integrate multiplicity into their work to attend to the problem of uniqueness and ubiquity.


[Fig. 4] Eadweard Muybridge, (1878) The Horse In Motion

 

[Fig. 3] adopts media qualities from the earliest photographic documentation of motion; Muybridge’s The Horse In Motion [Fig. 4]depicts animal movement in twelve frames. Although limited by the media, a life-like representation of movement when animated in a loop is produced. Making the static photograph more transparent, despite the camera turning the observer into a superhuman [McLuhan, 1964: 221] enabling locomotion to be captured and re-presented. [Fig. 3] and [Fig. 4] may now be presented as an animated GIF online, thereby remediating the minimalism of the historical medium.

Each new mode of transmission brings further layers of remediation and consequently more distorted representations. Following the printing press and photography, “today we are in the middle of a new media revolution – the shift of all culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution, and communication.” [Manovich, 2001: 19] Like a kaleidoscope’s tunnel of mirrors, resulting in distorted reflection and an unrealistic self-awareness of the individual framed by the remediated reality, exemplified by the multiplicity of online presentation in Hays, Roth’s non-literal self-portraits, and the perpetually repeating fragmentation of Leonard’s portrayal of the individual.

 

If the remediated individual becomes unquestionably prolific, representations may be automatically accepted through their overabundance, generating a banality of artifice to cope with information overload (rather than the banality of evil [Arendt, 1963] resulting from inhuman levels of horror). Whereas “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art,” [Benjamin, 1936], mass media feeds mass audiences. Digital media can be reproduced seemingly endlessly, and beyond mass distribution is further remediation, where “new media products emphasize interactivity and personalization, ” [Bell, 2007: 86-87] drawing from multiple sources for the individual user.

Artists’ responses to the remediated individual is particularly interesting due to the everyday triviality of interaction with insurmountably prolific mediated content, and the hypermedia systems providing users with ability to creatively manipulated an examine a interconnected network of relational links. [Halasz: 1994: 30] To ignore the innumerable interconnected mediums would accept the “shadows for substance,” [McLuhan, 1964: 193] disregarding media’s distortions of meaning.

The artist has a responsibility to be aware of their intervention with the flow of information, “art […] is a translator of experience […] given in a new kind of material,” [McLuhan, 1964: 242] because there is a greater abundance of mediating tools, then their effects are more significant. The self-critical artist must be aware of their own mediation and its reformation of their intention. “Just as there is no innocent eye, there can be no pure computer, even [traditional artists perceive] the world through existing […] representational schemes.” [Manovich, 2001: 117] Being severed from the server and constant remediations is still possible, as for now technological media need not frame everything. Nevertheless, representations undermine human perception whilst furthering it. The fool’s play merely imitates true narrative, akin to seeing oneself “like the painting of a sorrow, a face without a heart.” [Shakespeare: 1161]

 

 

Word Count:

Subtotal: 2514

Citations: 274

Total: 2240

 

References:

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–       Hagen (1980), Vol 1; Messaris, (1994): 72

–       McLuhan, Marshall (1975): 186

–       Mitchell, William J. (1994) The Reconfigured Eye. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press: 31

–       Schenk, David (1997) Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. New York: HarperEdge. 183

–       Silverston, R. and Hadden, J. (1996), Design and domestication, in R. Mansell and R. Silverston (eds), Communication by Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 75

  • Hays, Dan. (2014) Dialogues: Annual Fine Art Symposium. [Lecture] Norwich University of the Arts, England. 20.3.14
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–       Halasz, Frank and Schwartz, Mayer. 1994. The Dexter Hypertext Reference Model. Communication of the ACM. New York. ACM. 30: 41

–       Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry: 17, 89−100.

–       Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media. 1994 Edition. Routledge. Great Britain.
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–       (2012) Africa Image Harming Effort, Says Charity Oxfam. BBC News. [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20842827

–       Nachtwey, James. In Johnston, Sophia, (2012) Nachtwey Discusses War Photography. Dartmouth.

 

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